The Polyphone

by Irwin Russell

Irwin Russell

PROFESSOR J ONES was very wise,
And wore green goggles on his eyes, —
Or, 'twould be better, I suppose,
To say he wore 'em on his nose, —
And was so very tall and slim
The street-boys made a jest of him,
And to his garments would attach
The label: " Here's a walking match. "
Yet this ungainly friend of ours
Made daily gain in mental powers.
To him, each coming moment brought
Some thing of moment — fact or thought —
And he could bid the boys defiance
When rambling in the paths of science.

For many weeks Professor Jones
Made study of the laws of tones.
Of phonographs and telephones
And megaphones he had a store
That filled up half his study floor.
The number of his tools, indeed,
Would make a work too long to read
With any sort of satisfaction:
But magnets were the chief attraction.
With these he labored, much intent
On making a new instrument
Which should, by means of sound-vibrations,
Make both " transmissions " and translations.
Said he: " For speech, we must have tone,
And every language has its own, —
Our high-toned English such-and-such,
And so-and-so the lowest Dutch, —
Its given rules to guide inflection
In some particular direction.
There's philologic evidence
That all our languages commence
In some lost parent tongue, — each root
Each nation modifies to suit, —
And languages, 'tis clearly found,
In no way differ but in sound.
Now, diaphragms may well be trusted,
If once they're properly adjusted
For language A and language B,
According to the phonic key
(And then connected in a circuit
By persons competent to work it),
To transpose these root-derivations
Which differ with the tones of nations.
So if one " sends" an English sermon
'Twill sound a sound discourse in German,
And our Italian learned at home
Can be well understood at Rome. "

So saying, the Professor toiled,
And hammered, polished, filed, and oiled,
Until, adjusted and connected,
Behold the polyphones perfected!
One stood upon the study table,
And one was downstairs in the stable,
Where curious neighbors might not spy it,
And naught remained to do but try it.
A boy placed at the sending-station,
To speak (for a consideration)
The noble language of our nation,
Professor Jones hied up the stair
To listen to the sounds, up there,
Which would at once, no doubt, determine
If English could be changed to German.

That boy below, sad to relate,
Was not in a regenerate state:
His language did not smack of schools,
Or go by proper laws and rules.
His speech was very shrill, but oh!
Its tone was most exceeding low!
So then and there the stable rang
With slang, and nothing else but slang,
Which, having no equivalent
In German, clogged the instrument,
And while the disappointed Jones
Stood quaking at the horrid tones
That came from the receiving-plate,
Discordant, marticulate,
The boy began the last new song —
There was a clang, as from a gong,
And shattered were the polyphones,
And eke the intellect of Jones!

Last updated September 05, 2017